SALT LAKE CITY — After an up-and-down two-year football career at Montana State, Tre’ Strong decided to bet on himself.
The former Billings Skyview High School star broke into the Bobcats’ starting lineup at cornerback as a freshman in 2015, but he fell out of the rotation during his sophomore season. He knew during that fall that he would ultimately need a change of scenery.
Taking lessons learned from both Skyview and Montana State, Strong pushed his chips to the center of the table and walked on at Pac-12 Utah.
“Some of the things I went through my second year (at Montana State), some players may have a weak mentality and fall off,” Strong said in an interview with MTN Sports this spring. “Always bet on yourself and keep grinding. If you really want something, you can go get it. You’ve just got to put in that work.”
Strong’s been competing with the Utes for the past year now, just completing his second spring camp with the team. He could practice but not play during the 2017 season due to transfer rules, but he’ll be eligible to play this fall if he’s able to break through a deep and talented Utah secondary.
Utah returns two starting cornerbacks, including Julian Blackmon, who was a second-team all-conference selection last season after intercepting four passes and defending 10 others. Strong wasn’t listed on the spring’s two-deep depth chart for three cornerback positions (left, right and slot), but he earned rave reviews for his performances during the offseason drills. Strong made numerous plays, and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah told the Deseret News that Strong “is showing up.”
“Spring ball went really well,” Strong said. “Last spring to this spring is like night and day, just getting down my technique, just refining things. Spring was really productive, made a lot of plays, learned a lot of new tricks.”
Though he made strides during his time with the Bobcats, Strong never quite got comfortable in Bozeman. He still keeps in touch with some of his former teammates and has no ill will toward the coaching staff, but he’s more at ease at Utah.
Whether it’s his role on the team or navigating the streets of Salt Lake City, this just seems to fit. As Strong has gotten more comfortable on and off the field, he’s embraced the competition for playing time. In addition to Blackmon; Corrion Ballard, Jaylon Johnson, Javelin K. Guidry Terrell Burgess and Marquise Blair all started games for the Utes last season.
“It’s honestly really fun, because I think we have the most competitive group on the team,” said Strong, who added that he got repetitions with both the first and second units during the spring.
“A lot of guys are young, got some eligibility left,” Strong continued. “All of us could go out there and start. It just depends on who’s going to produce more. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I love the competition, so it’s great.”
Strong and his teammates will take a break from that competition for the next couple months before reporting to fall camp on Aug. 1. The Utes open the regular season against Weber State on Aug. 30 and begin Pac-12 play against Washington on Sept. 15.
But Strong isn’t looking that far ahead.
“My first goal is to get these classes done,” said the kinesiology major. “Then get home and get this summer work in, and then I’ll probably have that date (Aug. 30) circled when we report.”
He then made one more bet: “Football-wise, make sure y’all ready for fall.”